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Confessions of a Burned-Out Soccer Mom

Every well-meaning parent shares a desire to offer their children life experiences that will prove inspiring, informative or otherwise enriching. Given the millions of options at our disposal, however, how on earth are we to prioritize our time and money?

Throughout the years, my husband and I have struggled to scrape extra cash from the bottom of the barrel for music lessons, gymnastics, acting, camps, team sports and tutoring. Never fully knowing whether our money was well spent and struggling to afford $1/minute lessons (no kidding), I often questioned whether these things were worth the hours upon hours in the car, stress to the already-burdened budget and sacrifice of time spent together as a family.

But my skepticism was always ladened with guilt and obligation. After all, isn’t it the job of any good parent to run themselves into the ground in the best interests of their children?

Simple. Free. Enriching.

Looking back to the days when I still subscribed to this mentality, I distinctly remember a conversation with a friend in which we were trying to reconcile our ideals with the unfortunate shortage of hours in a day…

“Bare minimum, I just want each of my kids to play one instrument and one sport,” I said reluctantly, thinking my plan a reasonable compromise.

But as soon as I did the math, I was eating my words…

This would mean – on average – 4 hours per week per sport (figuring one game, one practice plus drive time) x 4 kids = 16 hours, and 2 hours per week per music lesson (figuring one lesson and drive time) x 4 kids = 8 hours. That’s 24 hours a week (or two entire days) of me and all the kids in the car at 65 mph, waiting on the edge of a ball field (or parking lot of a strip mall) and spending money needlessly just to pass the time.

Oh yea, and speaking of money…

Let’s just say that I have one soccer player (actually a relatively inexpensive sport on a city league), one gymnast, an actress and a dancer. A precocious bunch, they also play guitar, stand-up base, violin and piano. We’re talking – ballpark – $300/month for sports and a whopping $750/month for weekly music lessons and instrument rentals. That’s more than 1000 US DOLLARS a month in the hopes that they will practice, enjoy themselves and come away with either physical prowess or musical genius.

Are you stressed out yet? How about fitting these events into the schedule around work, school, homework, rush-hour and dinner? Never mind the associated recitals, awards ceremonies, out-of-town meets and costume fittings. And enforcing the daily discipline necessary to achieve proficiency in an instrument?

Sounds awesome.

Simple. Free. Enriching.

I know not everyone is so crazy as to have four children. There are even some people who plan the size of their families based on their ability to afford such perceived necessities (if you can believe it). But cut the figures in half and you’re still talking about a huge percentage of time and income spent on activities that keep the family running in separate directions, eating out, and glued to the highway in order to keep up.

Simple. Free. Enriching.

In grappling with this dilemma (because I do consider sports and music to be quite valuable), I have consulted my elders. On several occasions I’ve asked those of grandparent-age what it was like when their kids were young. Their answers speak volumes to the insanity our generation has created for ourselves…

“What do you mean drive the kids all over town for music lessons? Hell, who’d cook dinner?” Or similarly, “Well sure, they played baseball like every other kid. They walked on over to the fields after school.”

What a contrast.

Simple. Free. Enriching.

When did we adopt this notion that well-adjusted kids with any chance of success or happiness must be given every opportunity under the sun?

I don’t buy it. I don’t believe that we are cranking out a healthier generation by teaching them that their schedules must stay full in order to be fulfilled. I don’t believe that expensive, organized sports are any more beneficial than pick-up games of street ball or free play with neighborhood kids. I’m of the opinion that children’s lives are deeply enriched by good old-fashioned dinnertime routines and downtime to climb trees and happy parents not stressed and maxed by a million commitments.

Simple. Free. Enriching.

This is not to say that piano concertos and soccer Saturdays aren’t awesome, too – but from now on, it’s quality over quantity for this soccer mom. Less is more, local is the law and we don’t do dinner while driving.

For more on this topic, check out this invaluable short video by Kim Payne.

Beth Berry

About Beth Berry

Beth Berry is a writer, mother of four daughters and born idealist living the real life. When she's not orchestrating the household, she can be found in one of several precarious yoga poses, wandering indigenous Mayan food markets, or holed up in a sunny southern Mexican cafe with her laptop, a shade grown dark roast and a contemplative look on her face. Having lived against the grain as a baby-slinging, toddler-nursing, secondhand-shopping, wanna-be farmer for 17 years, she and her family decided to ditch the rat race for a taste of life abroad. Now, in addition to challenging conventional wisdom, she writes about her life-changing experiences working among women in extreme poverty and oppression. Keep up with her musings and adventures in imperfection at www.revolutionfromhome.com.

Comments (12)

I loved reading this. No matter how many times I remind myself this simple truth, i still find myself wondering if I'm offering and providing enough. As the kids grow older I wonder more earnestly. But it's so true. Following a child's interest can lead to lifelong passion/learning. Following our parental instinct to provide seems to lead to consumption, busyness and obligation. Cheers for this wonderful piece and for mothering who shared it. Now heading over to check out this woman's blog. Thanks.
Thanks for this so valuable reminder! It's easy to get caught up in the "more is better" mentality...even going so far as to feel guilty for spending the day "doing nothing" at home with your child(ren).
Excellent points, Beth, and I deeply agree with every one. As a mom myself, now of 2 teens and one preteen, one thing I found upsetting in trying to bring my kids up in a more old fashioned sense of "playing with friends in the street is valuable and just as good as organized activities" was that when we stayed home to play, there were no kids around to play with. Our society has so bought into this organized activity mentality that our neighborhoods can be like ghost towns. I wasn't able to keep my kids home to play in the neighborhood for very long because everyone else was away at team sports, lessons, etc. We need a societal overhaul to get back to this simpler way of living.
My parents had a good balance - and it started with them asking us and listening. My sister wanted to play soccer, softball, and swim team. So she was given the opportunity. Complaints about going to practice, or bad behavior at games/practice would have meant dropping it the next year. They asked me and I said no. Summer library program that I wanted to be a part of. Mom drove me, when the Houston heat was way to much for biking.
My 14 year old (wise young woman that she is) just had to remind me of this today when I mentioned yet another really cool opportunity for this summer. I'm so glad she realized it before I signed her up. We're all so bombarded with wonderful offerings, but you really can't do it all, and at some point it stops being fun and turns into stress. I guess it's like a buffet that has all these great things to choose from, but if you try to eat them all, your not going to be very happy. It's better to just enjoy in moderation. Instead of commitments, we'll be striving for more relaxed, unstructured fun with friends. Happy Summer!
Thanks Beth ... i really enjoyed this and it helped ease the "mother guilt" just a little today ;)
LOVE it! I try and keep activities to a minimum as well. I am especially seeing the importance of this as our family grows. I like things that we do as a group like go on nature hikes, have people over for dinner, and plant flowers. It makes for a very rich life without stress and expense.
Wow! The whole mum's taxi is something I find myself afflicted with a lot of the time. I am not daring enough to figure out the exact cost in terms of time and money but I know it is too much. I remember my aunt expressing awe at how much we 'modern mums' do with our kids. At that point, i realised I hadn't done all the activities (having been brought up in Africa) and I was ok. so i am in the process of simplifying :-)
I totally agree, and thankfully never got caught up with this mad rat race mentality. I felt that way though just driving my first off to school in the past. Now we unschool, and play like this article talks of, and they are coming out way ahead of their peers even in the tests.
"Less is more, local is the law and we don’t do dinner while driving." I love your last line - one for the 'note to self' board. A while back I was introduced to the Native American notion of the Children’s Fire, which was lit at any time that decisions were to be made to remind those present of their promise that: “No law, no action of any kind, shall be taken that will harm the children.” Such a simple idea – and yet so profound and all-encompassing. I wonder how the world would look if we all kept this as a focus – no action taken that will harm the children. And then I bring the idea home, and ask myself, what would change in my life if I were to keep that as a focus – no action taken that will harm the children. I am sure that it would mean that I would simplify my life. Less stress, less consumption, less driving, less doing. More being, more time for family and friendships, more sleep, more making, more growing. It sounds as if you have a children's fire burning in your heart.
I kept trying to read your article, but I couldn't keep my eyes off those gorgeous pictures of children playing in the dirt. I think my blood pressure went down just seeing such self-directed, absorbed kids. And dollar a minute lessons!?! Ha! I had to laugh. Where I live, it's $2 a minute for music lessons. You're getting a deal.
Love this post and whole heartedly agree. I think if a child has a genuine interest in playing a sport or instrument, then supporting that desire is great. But, scheduling for the sake of scheduling or arranging activities out of some sort of obligatory enrichment is just plain stressful for everyone. As you so aptly said, so much can be gained by bonding with neighborhood kids, free play and just spending downtime with family. And, so much creative thought can occur during unstructured time. Not to mention the money that could be saved for something that everyone would enjoy! Thanks for sharing your views. Excellent post! PS: Your photos remind me of a New Yorker article I read a few years ago about a playground developer that ditched all the plastic and metal playscapes for old tires, boards, ropes and other materials. His philosophy that having those materials to devise play would be more beneficial (creatively) than having the play space already defined. :)
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